The American Civil Liberties Union sued the U.S. government over an alleged policy of killing American citizens who are suspected of terrorism.
The lawsuit, filed today in federal court in Washington, argued that such targeted assassinations by the government are unconstitutional.
“A program that authorizes killing U.S. citizens, without judicial oversight, due process or disclosed standards is unconstitutional, unlawful and un-American,” ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero said in a statement announcing the filing of the case against U.S. President Barack Obama, the Defense Department and the Central Intelligence Agency.
The New York-based group, together with the Center for Constitutional Rights, brought the case on behalf of Nasser al-Awlaki, father of a U.S.-born Islamic cleric in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki, who is accused of having ties to al-Qaeda.
The younger al-Awlaki, who was born in Las Cruces, New Mexico, has been marked for death by the U.S. Defense Department and the CIA, according to the organizations.
U.S. forces are trying to find al-Awlaki, saying he has been linked to plots against American targets including the failed attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to detonate an explosive device aboard an airliner approaching Detroit in December.
‘Targeting of People’
“There is very little information available to the public about the U.S. targeting of people far from any battlefield,” the ACLU said on its website. Names are added to the list on the basis of a secret, internal process, the group said, citing unidentified news reports.
Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller declined to say whether such a dossier exists or what the criteria might be for being put in one.
“Congress has authorized the use of all necessary and appropriate force against al-Qaeda and associated forces,” Miller said in an e-mailed statement. The government is “careful to ensure that all its operations used to prosecute the armed conflict against those forces,” comply with applicable laws, including the laws of war, he added.
Al-Awlaki and the rights group seek a court order declaring that the U.S. Constitution and international law bar the government from executing its own citizens without due process “except as a last resort to protect against concrete, specific, and imminent threats of death or serious injury.”
They also seek an injunction against the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki.
The case is Al-Aulaqi (al-Awlaki) v. Obama, 10cv1469, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).